Meet UCLA’s new defensive boss. Same as the old boss? Time will tell for Bill McGovern

UCLA coach Chip Kelly has gone from one longtime friend to another as defensive coordinator, hiring veteran assistant Bill McGovern to replace Jerry Azzinaro.

The parallels between McGovern and his predecessor are striking. Both came to UCLA at the end of their careers. Both have known Kelly for decades. Both have experienced gaps of at least a decade between defensive coordinator roles.

McGovern, who turns 60 on New Year’s Eve, recently held the title from 2009 to 2012 while at Boston College. His Eagles went from No. 26 nationally in total defense in his first season to No. 13 in 2010 before falling to No. 70 in 2011 and No. 100 in 2012.

After working last season as the Chicago Bears’ inside linebackers coach, McGovern needed a job after being on the staff laid off in January when the Bears fired coach Matt Nagy.

Kelly and McGovern have known each other for decades. They first met as rival players in college, Kelly at New Hampshire and McGovern at Holy Cross, and went on to cross paths as coaches at the football championship subdivision level before Kelly did eventually hire McGovern as an outside linebackers coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“In this profession you tend to stay close to certain people, you tend to get along with them and stay close over the years,” McGovern said in a 2013 interview after being hired into the Kelly’s first NFL staff, which also included Azzinaro as a defensive line coach.

McGovern had also coached alongside Azzinaro in 1993 at Massachusetts, where McGovern was the defensive coordinator and Azzinaro was the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. The following season, Azzinaro took over from McGovern as defensive coordinator when McGovern became defensive backs coach during his first stint at Boston College. The duo were reunited at Chestnut Hill during the 1995 and 1996 seasons when Azzinaro arrived to coach the defensive line.

Stylistically, McGovern is known for favoring that linebackers primarily serve as part of the defensive line to build pressure and fill gaps in coverage. He held various positions at the FCS, Football Bowl Subdivision and NFL levels in a coaching career that spanned 37 seasons.

McGovern’s arrival at UCLA will give him a chance to revive a defense that has struggled under Azzinaro. The Bruins gave up 26.8 points per game last season, ranking 74th nationally — and that was an improvement from defenses that gave up 30.7 points in 2020, 34.8 points in 2019 and 34, 1 points in 2018.

Kelly and McGovern last worked together in 2015. After Kelly was fired from the Eagles staff after that season, McGovern became a linebackers coach for the New York Giants for four seasons. He spent the 2020 season as a defensive analyst at Nebraska under Scott Frost, another close friend of Kelly’s.

A star defensive back at Holy Cross who led the FCS level with 11 interceptions as an All-American in 1984, McGovern began his coaching career the following year as a freshman coach at Pennsylvania. His longest uninterrupted coaching stint was 12 straight years at Boston College, where he rose from linebacker coach to defensive coordinator.

After being replaced in that role by Don Brown prior to the 2013 season, McGovern was to remain on the Boston College staff as linebackers coach before Kelly hired McGovern to join him in Philadelphia.

While at Boston College, McGovern mentored linebackers Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly, who became Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Players of the Year.

McGovern will inherit a UCLA defense that is losing some of its best players. Lineman Otito Ogbonnia is heading to the NFL, forward Qwuantrezz Knight has exhausted his eligibility and nine players – including top rusher Mitchell Agude and cornerback Jay Shaw – have entered the transfer portal.

But the Bruins are bringing back veteran linebacker Caleb Johnson and promising cornerback Devin Kirkwood, among others, while importing a handful of possible impact transfers, including cornerback Azizi Hearn and point carrier Laiatu Latu. UCLA also remains in the running for several other transfers that could bolster the defense and ease McGovern’s transition to the college level.

Comments are closed.